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About the Author: Brad Munson is a writer and editor of fiction and non-fiction who has told stories in the worlds of The Amityville Horror, Men in Black, WolfCop, and Star Trek. His most recent fiction includes Heroes, the final book in Z.A. Recht’s apocalypse series, and Brad's own three-book supernatural disaster series, The Rain Triptych. He has also written screenplays in the suspense genre. Bruce McAllister's short fiction has appeared in international magazines (MYSTERY WEEKLY and ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE) and "year's best" volumes; and won or been shortlisted for awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Shirley Jackson Award, the Hugo, the Nebula, and others. His Hugo-nominated short story "Kin" was chosen to launch actor LeVar Burton's new podcast, LEVAR BURTON READS.

The disorder we have termed amusia can be a devastating affliction. Yet the patient suffering this affliction often achieves insights he would not otherwise achieve. It is as if he had been set free to truly hear and see. — August Knoblauch, 1890

David looked at his gruel and said, with only a slight slur, “It’s true: I’m the luckiest dead man ever.”

His daughter Laura brushed her bangs out of her eyes—looking like the little girl he remembered. “You are lucky, Pops. You aren’t dead.” She’d taken care of him just like this when her mother died, and both of them were grieving. Laura had been twenty-two then. She was thirty-seven now.

“Yet,” he said.

Pops …

David would have shrugged, but with only one of his shoulders able to move he knew how grotesque it looked. He resisted the temptation and just scowled instead. He had become very good at scowling in the last ten weeks.

“I know,” he said, “I’m lucky to still be alive. And this—” He flopped a hand slightly, enough for Laura to notice, but not enough to trigger tears. “—I can live with.”

“It’ll get better,” she said, absently wiping away the drops of oatmeal with the corner of a napkin. “Doctor Sobileski is encouraged by your progress.”

“Oh, me, too,” he grunted. “Thrilled.”

Laura took a big breath and tried to change the subject. David was very impressed by his daughter’s determination and resilience. He knew he wasn’t making it easy. The sardonic sense of humor that had made him a favorite down at the radio station was coming out bitter and whiney these days. He knew it, but he was having a hard time stopping it.

“Let’s try listening to some music,” she said. “That ought to cheer you up.”

David flinched. He had been the host of “Clearly the Classics” on KCPR for almost twenty-five years—four hours every morning, whether they wanted to listen or not, until the stroke had taken him down like a hammer. Now …

“No, Laura.” He said it more sharply than he intended, and he hated the way the ‘L’ sounded in his mouth now, ever since the stroke.

She paused, but only for a moment. Then she stood, crossed the room, carefully pressed the POWER button, and slowly upped the gain on the huge stereo system that dominated the west wall of his apartment.

Stanley Drake, who had inherited his show a month ago, had just cranked up Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor. David knew what he should have been hearing: the melancholy but somehow hopeful sounds. A sunrise across the fields. “The New World.”

But that wasn’t what he heard at all.

The sounds were hideous now. They filled his ears with a screeching and grinding. Tortured, broken nails across a blackboard, skirling up and down the scale, followed abruptly, explosively, by a booming, cracked-bass thrummmmm that blasted through his aching head.

“Turn it off! Jesus, please, turn it off!”

She did. She’d been waiting for him to ask. It happened every time now. She immediately turned it off and looked at him. “Just as bad?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Worse.” The thing of it was, he could remember the old feelings, from the beauty of this piece—who couldn’t?—but they were fading, and now all he heard was harsh and cruel and ugly sounds. And—

—though he hated to admit it, he heard something else. Beneath—maybe between—the clashing, cracking screeches, he could hear what felt like … words. He could hear what someone—maybe the composer, maybe the performer—was trying to say at the moment the music emerged. He could, though it felt impossible, hear Dvorak’s love and hatred for the stinking, deafening, fascinating world of New York in 1893. He could hear the contemporary conductor’s bitter disappointment at how little he would be making for this world-class recording. He even heard the burning hatred of the first chair clarinet, whose boyfriend had thrown him out, literally thrown him out of their flat the night before this performance.

This story appears in our APR 2021 Issue
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Reader Discussion

That's good writing. Very literary! Interesting and different storyline as well.
By Susan Rickard

Amusia is unusual, visually clear, and interestingly reveals the secrets music can convey if listened to closely, as David does. Enjoyed it greatly!
By Gloria Mayers

Great story!
By Joan Leotta

Fantastic storyline! Different in an unusual way but perfectly strange way.
By Mickey Cherry

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